Call for Mercy as Energy Companies Allowed to Pursue Lockdown Debts
Energy Action Scotland has today called on First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon to intervene as energy companies are permitted to pursue unpaid energy bills.
With 25% of households in Scotland living in fuel poverty and 30% of the newly unemployed destined to join them, academics and organisations including AGE Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty, Action Group, Health & Social Care Alliance, Children in Scotland, Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance and Carers Scotland have joined the call to protect struggling households in Scotland from sheriff officers in the continuing uncertainty following COVID-19 lockdown.
CEO of Energy Action Scotland, Frazer Scott said,
“As lockdown restrictions ease many households are facing unprecedented hardship as they struggle with rising levels of debt.
“We are calling on our First Minister to intervene on behalf of these vulnerable households. We are willing to work with Scottish Government and energy companies to find solutions to rising energy debt and a situation which has all the makings of a humanitarian crisis come winter 2020.
“Fuel poverty kills six people in Scotland every day of winter and increased levels of fuel poverty will result in more deaths. Surely an inclusive Scotland cannot stand by and watch this happen for another winter?”
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14 July 2020
Dear First Minister
I am writing to you on behalf of the 25% of Scottish households currently living in fuel poverty. This is a number which is rising every day as COVID-19 brings with it job losses, the closure of businesses and unprecedented hardship for families and individuals struggling with rising levels of debt.
In the first month of COVID-19 restrictions the number of people in Scotland looking for work rose by 30,000. 30% of the newly unemployed are destined to be Scotland’s new fuel poor, adding 9000 people to the 25% of Scottish households currently living in fuel poverty in May alone. These people will all be struggling to maintain rent and mortgage payments, are at risk of accruing debt, rendering entire households extremely vulnerable at a time when employers are laying off staff in enormous numbers.
We all know how unfair this is and it seems that there is little we can do to change the situation at this time while COVID-19 is still a very real threat to us all. However, what we ask of you is that we make every effort as a fair society to ensure that we minimise the damaging effects of stress and uncertainty on struggling households.
We are horrified to discover that energy companies were recently given the go-ahead to pursue unpaid energy bills again. While they have been warned not to be aggressive in their pursuit, we note that sheriff officers have been banned from knocking on doors for another six weeks to collect other unpaid debts, such as parking fines or council tax.
For the many people currently working from home there has been an increase in energy use and therefore bills. For vulnerable people, particularly those living in rural areas, our member organisations tell us of people unable to access pre-paid meter top ups because of restrictions in public transport, reduced opening hours and some local services which have simply been suspended during the pandemic.
We appreciate that the regulator Ofgem has told suppliers it is not in anyone’s interests for an open-ended debt collection delay. However without sensible measures to protect the increasing numbers of vulnerable households and families, the impact of increasing levels of poverty, self-disconnection or rationing of energy on people’s wellbeing will be devastating. Energy Action Scotland therefore asks that all energy suppliers be called upon to treat customers sensitively over the next 3-6 months and beyond as the country and the economy recovers.
It should also be recognised that over 18% (445,000) of households are in areas off the gas grid and there are thousands of households that rely on unregulated fuels such as oil (6% or 145,000) and LPG (1% or 27000). We call on you to urge those supply companies to act with the same degree of responsibility and sensitivity.
Fuel poverty kills six people in Scotland every day of winter and increased levels of fuel poverty will result in more deaths. Surely an inclusive Scotland cannot stand by and watch this happen for another winter? There are tangible and practical steps that could be taken to help people manage their debt – from industry supported debt matching with Scottish Government funds, to steps accelerating the rate of improvement to people’s homes through grant intervention providing an important jobs stimulus for our economy.
We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you and to present other options to support the fair treatment of individuals and households as well as the resolution of Scotland’s decades-long battle with cold, damp homes and solutions to help the thousands that die each year as a direct result of the impact of fuel poverty.
Yours sincerely etc